The first dawn of 2024 held many a milestone for the Indian space industry, as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) PSLV-C58 lifted off into the skies. The ever-revered workhorse of ISRO carried with it the XPoSat, India’s first observatory to study polarisation of cosmic X-rays, and a host of other scientific experiments including Dhruva Space’s nanosatellite platform, called the P-30.
The validation of Dhruva Space’s P-30 nanosatellite platform kicks off our Launching Expeditions for Aspiring Payloads or LEAP series of hosted payload solutions. Dhruva Space is one of the very few full-stack space companies across the world; our offerings are payload- and application-agnostic, therefore making our missions customisable as per the customer’s requirements. The LEAP initiative is already seeing customer traction with one mission slated for 2024, with an Australian company wanting to validate their hyperspectral imager. Such opportunities would not be possible without the flourishing growth of the Indian space industry, with an estimated value at $8 billion, and with a 2 per cent share in the global space economy, according to the India in Space report by Arthur D. Little (July 2023).
Domestic and international cooperation; a proven record of frequent, reliable and cost-effective launches; enhanced clarity on regulatory frameworks; and growing market demands for satellite-based services, are together shaping the bright future of the Indian space programme.
Till date, ISRO has launched 431 foreign satellites, with 389 in the last nine years. In 2017, newsrooms around the world were in an excited frenzy around the 104 nanosatellites launched onboard ISRO’s PSLV-C37, which broke the previous record of Russia’s 2014 launch of 37 satellites.
Out of the 101 nanosatellites from other countries, 96 were from the US, and the rest belonged to companies based in Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UAE. This historic launch reignited an already long-standing faith in the Indian space programme. The launch left no ambiguity lingering in the air – India was well on its way to become a space superpower.
The world’s collective interest piqued, the government of India acted fast, pushing for a level playing field for both government and private sector players. The Startup India initiative raised the proverbial green flag for space start-ups to surge ahead; this lent not just recognition but also resources to companies like Dhruva Space and Skyroot Aerospace – pioneers in payload solutions and notable names in the global space market.
There are three factors contributing to the growth in participation of private firms in the space sector: policy, access to capital, and growth in the general ecosystem to serve the global market. All this is fuelled by the tremendous growth of requirements for satellites globally. A key to commercial success in the space industry is the flight heritage of the systems.
All three of these factors work symbiotically. We are already observing private companies raising substantial capital, leveraging a greater degree of autonomy in making decisions while working with regulatory bodies such as IN-SPACe to maintain a certain level of accountability, and engaging the public in a more detailed dialogue around space and satellite technologies. Such support will inexorably boost participation not just across start-ups but also investors and stakeholders, as well as progressive collaborations.
The time is now
The timing of the vitalisation of the private space sector has been integral, considering there are many small satellite requirements globally. The projections are estimated to be in the tens of thousands in number; in order to meet any of those demands, the global supply chain needs to be robust and strong. The start-ups that exist in the ecosystem, along with 400-odd vendors that build small yet critical components for the Indian space programme are gearing up to benefit from this sudden space rush.
A groundswell of international partnerships have also allowed India to contribute to and benefit from global space initiatives. These partnerships have not just been between space agencies but also private companies – these collaborations will continue to grow and affect how the collective global populations perceives space and the orbits.
It is worth pointing out that India’s growing economic influence and geopolitical importance could translate into a more prominent role in the global space ecosystem, especially as space activities become increasingly intertwined with national security and economic interests. India has already had such dialogue with countries including but not limited to the US, the UAE, the UK, Australia, France, and Chile.
The recently-launched Chandrayaan-3, Aditya-L1 and XPoSat missions prove the significant strides we have taken to further space exploration. Future missions may include exploration of celestial bodies, or even human spaceflight further validating India as a space nation. The achievements and continued momentum of the Indian space industry will continue to go from strength to strength in the coming years. ●
— The author is Chief Executive Officer & Co-founder, Dhruva Space